Advent is here, our tree and decorations have been brought down from the loft (but not put up yet) and this morning had a real wintry feel about it with a heavy frost draping roofs, fences, plants and grass. The sun was shining and everything looked beautiful.
To start the season, I yesterday attended a Celtic Advent workshop at the London Centre for Spirituality with our hosts June Boyce-Tillman (Professor of Applied Music at University of Winchester) and Kenneth Boyd Browne, former Interim Director of the Centre.
The day was split into four parts, the first being The Creative Breath. We began by humming, any note we wanted while some small instruments were used every now and then. It was interesting to see that eventually everyone was humming in harmony! This reminded me a little of my choir warm-up (in fact all the singing aspects did). There is something quite haunting about humming one note and there was a hint of Tibetan monk about this which I liked. The exercise ended with a chime from the singing bowl. We then paused before moving on to a breathing exercise in which June used a hand drum for rhythm and spoke some sentences about breathing and nature. Next Kenneth read what is believed to be the first Irish poem and while a candle was lit we sang a song with lyrics written by June to an existing tune. We then ended the first session repeating the words from Palm 42 ‘as the heart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.’
The second session was entitled Light and Darkness. We began with another song written by June called Harvest of Darkness followed by a short talk on redemption and Ken read ‘This is the long night…’ (sorry not sure where this comes from) and then we had a period of silent meditation on being aware of the light of God that is tat the heart of life. During this a plant was put on the table next tot the candle. Outside workmen drilling away like crazy! At first it was annoying yet it was possible to switch off from it times. Before we broke for lunch June showed us some pictures of Celtic Knotwork and invited us take some photocopied sheets during lunch to either colour in there and then or to take home.
During lunch we had a chance to chat with each other and small world that it is I found two ladies who lived a couple of miles up the road from me and one worked at the school where my son used to go! I had really enjoyed the morning, the silence, the singing and the poetry and was looking forward to the afternoon sessions. I picked up a ‘Knot sheet’ and some text for later and had a chance to whiz round the bookshop there.
The afternoon began looking at Centredness with a lovely poem by John O’Donohue called The Secret of Thereness. I’ve not come across this poet before but I found this poem really touched me and I shall seek out his books when I get a chance. We then had a reading from Ian Bradley’s Book (which I have) The Celtic Way about Knotwork followed by another song entitled I know I am loved. Ken then read a story about St Patrick and the Stones and a stone was placed in a bowl of water next to the candle and plant. Ken then showed us a posture prayer which we all did twice. It reminded me of a yoga move as the hands come up the sides of the body, back of the palms touch the ears and then reach up. The hands come together as in prayer and are brought down to where the heart is, then twist to a clasp as we come home to ourselves. I loved this movement and will definitely use it again. Afterwards we split into small groups of three or four to discuss ‘Where is my centre?’ and then feed back any thoughts to the group as a whole. Observations included feelings of being out of sorts, reviewing things to get back to that centred feeling, finding the stillness within and about focus and finding stillness in a busy environment. We all agreed that it is easy to find in the countryside but finding it on a bus or tube at commuter time is much harder!
The final part of the day looked at Birth and Rebirth. Ken read a passage from The Spiders Web by Peter Tremayne, followed by a reading and discussion with June on The Celtic Tradition. Some interesting points were made here about how pagans and Christians interacted and got along whereas Christians seem split over the different denominations! June also said that if the Celts were around today they would wonder what all the fuss was about over halloween. Ken then read A Christmas Rose by Rev Canon Grover while a rose was placed on the table with the candle, plant and stone. We then sang Sacred Endings and Beginnings, another of June’s songs set to a traditional folk song. There was a reading on The Pilgrimage (I think from Ian Bradley’s book) and we ended with the last of June’s songs See she comes in expectation followed by a prayer.
I didn’t know what to expect on this workshop but I found peace. There were plenty of pauses between exercises and readings to pray or gather thoughts. The day was uplifting, thoughtful and fun. It was nice to get away from all the ‘stuff’ I have to do in the next two weeks, relax and remember what Advent is all about.